Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home   |  Volume 6, Issue 36, Tuesday, September 13, 2011



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To mental well-being

You know what, whenever subjects like depression or hopelessness or even melancholy arise and people say that you need to go to a specialist to unwind, many in our society mark you as a basket case and either dump you or gossip behind your back.

As if mental health has no significance and we are always bound to be fit mentally.

We go to many heights to keep ourselves physically fit but whenever it comes to matters of the mind we tend to ignore them. Going to a psychiatrist or a counsellor is a taboo in our society but I personally think it is high time we put aside our prejudices and face the truth and accept the fact that we need to sort the tangles of our minds too and be healthy mentally.

We have been ignoring our psyche for forever now and it is time to wake up and take in hand its needs. Or at least acknowledge the fact that mental health is equally important as your physical health.

So if you wake up early in the morning and go for a jog or a swim to keep your heart free of its ailments, you now need to listen to your heart too. And try finding the answers to the smallest of the nags or fears or concerns that are choking it.

I am not kidding and don't you start calling me crazy, though I must admit my bearings are all loose and coming apart but I am still here and in the right frame of mind too. Well at least that is my impression of myself.

Anyway, my reason for such a declaration is because lately I have been getting random phone calls at work and answering depressing or very pressing e-mails all sending me SOS signals and asking for the phone numbers of our columnist and counsellor Dr Nighat Ara or Prothom Alo's columnist Dr Mehtab Khanam. And these calls or letters leave me quite upset for a good period of time. The desperation in their tones makes me helpless and since I cannot help them, I feel quite handicapped.

We are living extremely stressful lives; it is part and parcel of any urban society. But what is important is that amid all such pressure situations we need to feel comfortable with ourselves. Because we may be tough on the outside or, let me re-phrase that, we may have toughened ourselves to contain stress and learned to manage it better, but on the inside, we forget that our minds are fragile. No matter how much hardship it endures, it still remains sensitive.

A small, tactless comment from a near one or even a colleague can trigger an avalanche of emotions in you and you can be drowning in sorrows. If you don't sort these concerns out for yourself, they just pile up in numbers and leave you an emotional wreck.

It is irrelevant what is bugging you; those huge fights with your husband, the insensitive comments of your mother-in-law or the constant pressure from your mother to live up to her expectations or your toddler not eating; or it can be the fact that you are not getting married or self esteem can be a problem. Whatever the case is, you need to talk it out.

If you don't have a caring, supportive ear around you, do not let go because it is exactly when such small things start to pile up that your mind becomes full of junk and garbage and you tend to feel unhappy. And a counsellor only helps sort that puzzlement inside your mind, a counsellor cannot prescribe drugs so remember you are just talking to yourself or facing the mirror; that is about it.

To explain it further, I would like to point out that just as all treatments for our physical ailments do not end in surgery; taking medicine more than suffices. Similarly all mental health problems do not need medication. Simply confronting our dilemmas is enough to help gain balance and make you happy again.

That brings me to happiness; we are working hard just so that we can be happy with loved ones, isn't it? Then why deny yourself that peace of mind or that bliss? It is high time you clear the closet of skeletons and take professional help to sort it out. It is not a demeaning thing to do.

So here's to happiness and to a happy you.

-- Raffat Binte Rashid



By Iffat Nawaz

Okay I will let you borrow some green if that is what you are lacking; maybe in a bottle of perfume, pastel top with a leaf watermark on the outside. Foreign. Almost unused. You will hold it tight, spray it on your body every morning and feel like it has changed your life. The life you lead outside of my imagination, in your small house, cramped with many breathing bodies, new borns, toddlers, and old mothers.

If that is not how you want it, then I will let you borrow some green from the border of my sari. It will wrap you around like a magic ribbon. It will stretch 6 yards, you can tie your braid with it or use it as an embellishment for the ends of your orna. Or you can tear it up into pieces and every time you cut yourself you can wrap your bloody wound with my green ends. Green it will be, covering your red.

If that doesn't work for you, and you look up from your work window and see that the clouds have formed a canopy in the sky and soon it will be pouring big drops, cleaning temporarily and all which were left dry, damaged and dark will turn into pieces of clouds, look for the cart that the corner street vendor is pushing towards the shade; the one with a 100 guavas on it. I will buy one of those, cut them into four halves and you can have two.

If that's not enough then come over to my veranda. We will plant a tree. Yes I know I am terrible at gardening but perhaps this time it will not end in death. Maybe with the everyday glances, the pour of the last bit of monsoon, a bit of mixing the soil, we will help it survive.

There will be green flowers along with the green leaves. We won't pluck any of the flowers unless it falls on the ground because it wants to be on our hair or bedside tables or between the pages of the book I am reading. One day when I no longer remember you it will fall out of the pages and land greener than when it was alive, and I will put it back in a different book, all the while searching my memories, wondering why it hurts to touch it.

If a plant won't satisfy your green thirst I will take you to that pond. The one I remember seeing somewhere, in somebody's backyard. Clear still green, reflecting not the sky around it but the lives in it. We can slowly walk into the water, one wet foot after another, then swim till the green feels almost black and we run out of breath.

And if you say that was not it, that's not what you have been searching for then I will give you a hand full of olives, a memory of my childhood, and even a cut of my soul that I have saved for rainy days. Maybe you will not understand, maybe you will ask me for cash to meet your ends, I will misunderstand and keep giving all wrong greens, until I run out and you leave.


Interpreter of maladies

Dr. Nighat Ara, Psychiatrist,
Counsellor and Therapist

Self-esteem among children has become a very important issue, especially in a world that is becoming more and more competitive and cut-throat. It is an issue that is close to parents' hearts as a crisis of self-confidence can have a big say in a child's future. In light of questions we have been receiving on this subject, this week Dr. Nighat Ara takes a wide view in enlightening us about the many aspects of this vital issue, looking at what measures parents and care-givers can take to raise a healthy, confident child and the different factors that determine a child's self-esteem.

I am a mother of a teenage boy and I have begun to notice that my son and his peers suffer from very low self-esteem. Why do teenagers these days suffer from such problems? What sociological cause has contributed to this situation? Thank you.
-- Troubled Mum

Dear Troubled Mum,
Self-esteem is defined as the integrated sum of self-confidence and self-respect. It is the belief/conviction that you are competent to cope with life's challenges and that you are worthy of happiness.

Teen years are typically spent in sorting out the identity crisis. The main psychosocial task of this stage is figuring out who I am and who I'm going to be. Self image and self-esteem are closely linked. So it is not unusual to find teenagers struggling with self-esteem when they are building up their identity.

Some important factors in developing self-esteem are --

· recognising personal qualities
· accepting oneself as who s/he is
· trusting personal capabilities
· accepting that everybody is different
· hanging out with positive people

Some teenagers are fantastic in making the best use of their potentials while others are wasting it all. It is surely painful to observe teenagers who show consistent signs of low self-esteem, which has a life damaging consequence.

It is probably worth mentioning here that we adults also sometimes jump to quick conclusions that our children are in the wrong path when we see them experimenting with new ideas or lifestyles that are foreign to us. Besides, nobody's self-esteem remains static forever. It is natural to experience ebbs and flows in self-esteem depending on life situations. An apparently nervous, shy kid in one situation may act quite confidently in another.

Today's teenagers are exposed to many new challenges and are expected to excel in everything. Parents tend to put too much demand on their children and instil a fear of failure too early in life. Some parents are over-protective and want to shelter their children from all odds. A child is thus robbed of the opportunities of learning from real life experiences and grows up as timid teenagers.

Moreover social pressure on these kids to excel in school is also ever-increasing. Raising the bar helps some to make use of their full potential but puts others at risk of low self-esteem from failures. Teenagers who can overcome such challenges become stronger people and stand a better chance to succeed in today's society.

The downside of it is that children who cannot meet these demands start having low self-esteem that spirals them down even further. Our school system doesn't offer programs or curriculum to match individual needs. Children with any kind of special needs tend to fall through the crack very easily and become victims of the situation.

We live in a very competitive society. One will be compared to others in every respect. Clothes they wear, houses they live in, cars they ride, marks they get in any exams, physical beauty, friends they hang out with -- everything is under scrutiny and comparison. A pervasive sense of comparison denies the fact that humans are born different and unique in many ways. It kills the healthy growth of individual potential that can happen only in a conducive environment.

Society as a whole is facing many challenges as it is getting exposed to cultural diversities through globalisation. Teens are feeling the pressure to catch up with western cultures, which is deemed as the sign of modernism. Being in touch with old traditions and being sensitive to personal history is pertinent to the growth of an authentic self.

It seems to me that prevalence of drug abuse, criminality, political instability and bad social role models, widespread social injustice -- all these are taking a toll on our future generation.

Dear Doctor,
Much has been said about the low self esteem children face day in and day out but very little is mentioned about the roles the parents and the family should play in order to boost their children's morales. I would be very pleased if you could highlight on the ideal role of the father, the mother and the siblings in this matter.
- Concerned

Parents and family are the key players in raising a child to be a confident person. This discussion is a tricky one though as it tends to slide back a few generations to obtain a full understanding of how it works.

Today's parents are the product of the interaction between the genes they got from their parents and the environment in which they grew up. So, it is important to understand that parents are not perfect and they can not offer something to others that they do not have themselves (particularly self-esteem!). Lot of families are carrying the scars of psychological trauma from past experiences. They pass it over to the next generation through their dysfunctional behaviour and attitude without even realising it. Under such a circumstance, despite all the good intention and hard work, raising a child in to a healthy person seems to fall apart in the long run.

A baby who is warmly clothed, fed and hugged by a nurturing caregiver knows at an unconscious level that he is precious and vice versa. Basically all children come to this world knowing that they are important and do not hesitate to make insistent demands until their needs are met. In most cases it works well and babies start thriving.

It all becomes more complicated as the child enters toddlerhood and starts becoming more independent. Now they have to learn the rules and regulations, dos and don'ts and right and wrong etc. New learning and disciplining can happen smoothly if the foundation of “attachment” between parent and child is rock solid. Otherwise it has the potential of damaging the self-esteem of the child.

Attachment between child and parent is very crucial in developing good self-esteem. When there is good attachment, a child knows that he is loved for who he is and that love is unconditional.

Children's basic needs have to be fulfilled and children must not feel guilty or ashamed to express their needs. The basic needs of food, clothes and shelter is a financial issue too. In our socio-cultural perspective, parents who can not afford to satisfy the basic needs of the children are giving birth to more children!

Wealthy families can fulfil those needs, but they often forget about the child's basic need for direct contact, attention and time from the parent. When both parents have to work outside home to make their ends meet and leave behind the child for long hours, there is risk of emotional abandonment that eventually affects self-esteem. There are parents who do not take parenting as a serious enough job and tend to neglect that role or have other priorities in life. Now, this is a vast issue that encompasses socio-economic situations and probably can't be solved easily.

There are evidences that if employers can offer longer maternity leave (at least a year) to allow the biological parents to do the parenting job as best as they can, it turns out to be a long term investment for that society. Government has a role to play in it too. I believe if someone draws a cost-benefit chart carefully enough, the overall benefits would far outweigh the total cost of extended maternity leaves.

Children growing up in tensed, abusive environments are destined to suffer from low self-esteem. Sometimes, it is not even the words that are spoken but the tone of the voice, a tightened jaw or the mere look is damaging enough for a child who does not know what went wrong and starts feeling it was his fault. Stress and anger feelings in parents can affect sensitive children very easily.

Parents who are too controlling, highly opinionated and tend to overreact should seek help for their own issues. Awareness about mental health issues, offering wide range of services and de-stigmatising mental illnesses to create conducive environment is a prerequisite for that.

Self-esteem is sometimes like a scavenger hunt, you tend to find what you are looking for. If you are looking for flaws, we all have it, you will surely find it. If you are looking for the strengths and assets then you will find it too. Self-judgement and judging others, being too defensive and argumentative, excessive criticism, put downs are fertile ground for low self-esteem. Again, excessively praising a child on accomplishments, over protection, faking or showing off love has its downside too. Inflated ego or false confidence is not healthy human qualities. It shouldn't be mistaken as self-esteem.

When parents and family fail to do their job, it is important to take steps to work on it as a responsible adult. Healthy parents have a better chance of giving a gift of a healthy child to the nation. The nation has to invest in it to make it possible. Now who starts first?

It does not have to happen in a sequential form; neither can we afford to wait for an ideal situation to come first to take such an action. People have to do what they can with what they have at any given point of time at both individual and collective level.


It's never easy to settle back!

As Nishat landed at Shahjalal (RA) International Airport, she felt a hint of nostalgia and an overflow of the urge to meet her loved ones again. After a lot of hugs and tears, as soon as she stepped outside the airport doors to get into her car, she noticed a man spit on the road! Indeed, for those students who flocked abroad for higher studies and returned to Bangladesh, it is never easy to again get used to the same old life. To begin with, you have to accept our country's shortcomings. The traffic, lack of hygiene, power cuts -- living in a Third World country, once you have lived in a developed one, is hard to deal with.

Tonmoy, an engineering student who completed his undergraduate program from a university in Canada, draws from his own experience, “After I eat something in the streets, I look for a garbage bin to throw away the rubbish, but after a long search all I get is a filled up garbage bin and you cannot get within five hundred meters of it.”

Perhaps one of the biggest problems these students face is culture shock. Afrin, a graduate who recently settled back in Dhaka after living six years in Australia, opines, “When I first went to Australia, I had a hard time seeing people boozing and clubbing. It's difficult to adjust and feel normal about it. But once you get used to it, it's no big deal. The problem with us is that at first we feel uncomfortable with the difference in culture. But when you've adapted to it and your life is normal again, you are back home and then you face the challenge of getting used to the rules here all over again.”

And then of course there is the issue of parents' rules. In a foreign land, without your parents breathing down your neck, you are free to do anything! You want to have a sleepover; you have got no explaining or whining to do. You want to have a party with your friends in your home; nobody is going to stop you. But once you are back in Bangladesh, you don't get to bring this freedom with you in your luggage! Then you realise that although you've grown up, issues with your parents have gone unchanged.

But even with all these hassles and problems and barriers, students studying abroad still miss Bangladesh with all their heart and soul. When you spend most of your life somewhere, that place will haunt your memory even when you move away. Another student, studying in the US, shares her feeling, “Nothing is greater when you get your friends and family. The love Bangladeshi people give outstrips all the odds.”

But is there a brighter future here in Bangladesh or in the country you have studied in? Sadly, our country has relatively fewer opportunities and the people who have lived and studied abroad understand well that America, or Australia, or UK or any developed country for that matter, offers you a living standard and quality of life a Third World country cannot. But, on the other hand, you love your country. Is it a good idea to return permanently? Is it worth the sacrifice? It's a great dilemma indeed.

By Zane



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